Julie Ann Shapiro's debut novel Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries is among more than 100,000 digital titles for sale on Amazon's Kindle e-book reader. But the author is one of many readers who cannot get hold of a Kindle. "I wish I could tell you I had one," she sighs. "Most people I know are frustrated about not getting one."
Amazon amzn launched the paperback-size gadget to considerable fanfare last November. But prospective buyers who click on the Kindle links at the top of Amazon's home page are informed that due to heavy demand the product is "temporarily sold out."
The company takes Kindle orders on a first-come, first-served basis. But the online retailer won't reveal how many have been sold or when supply will catch up with demand.
"We can't go into details about exact wait times," says Amazon vice president for digital products Ian Freed, conceding that the company underestimated demand. "We've had to ramp up manufacturing pretty significantly, and ramping up a manufacturing takes a little time." Amazon's Senior Vice President Steven Kessel told a group of publishers recently that Amazon's focus is "on getting back in stock" with Kindles.
JupiterResearch vice president and research director Michael Gartenberg says, "It's almost like the literary version of a Wii" — a comparison to Nintendo's difficult-to-come-by video game console.
Judging from online discussion groups, the Kindle wait time seems to be about four to six weeks. It took a month before Sacramento-based digital library consultant Kris Ogilvie got hers. "What I didn't like is that they didn't really keep you informed about how long it would be," she says. But Ogilvie is happy with the device and says she's already recommended it to others.
Some people aren't willing to wait. In the past week or so, more than 180 Kindles have been snapped up on eBay ebay, for an average price of $443.82. A site called GetKindle.com advertises some new units for nearly $550. Amazon sells Kindle for $399.
E-book readers let bookworms schlep a boatload of titles — more than 200 in Kindle's case. Kindle weighs around 10 ounces. Like its rival the Sony Reader sne, Kindle employs gray-scale electronic ink technology to replicate the experience of reading on actual paper.
But Kindle stands out. The online Kindle Store carries way more books than Sony's own online e-book store, including nearly all top New York Times best sellers. "You actually have books that people want to read," Gartenberg says.
And Amazon priced those books at $9.99 or less. "Getting to that $9.99 price point was a huge incentive," Gartenberg says.
Kindle's real breakthrough is in its wireless Whispernet network. Avid readers can search for and sample books, blogs and periodicals right from the device, and — with decent coverage — download purchased content in less than a minute. Whispernet is built on top of Sprint's s speedy EV-DO wireless network, the same technology used in certain cellphones. But folks don't have to pay fees to tap into the network.
Moreover, the books you buy are backed up on Amazon's servers, which comes in handy should you ever lose the Kindle or accidently delete a title.
To Amazon's credit, "They had the entire book, hardware, service mechanism and content totally in place by Day 1," says Tim Bajarin, president of the Creative Strategies consulting firm.
Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at NPD Group, says Amazon's success may have provided "some halo effect" to the Sony Reader. Indeed, Sony senior vice president Steve Haber says the $299 Reader has surpassed expectations. It sold out during the holidays, and supplies remain tight. But he says you can find them in stores and at SonyStyle.com.
Sony won't rule out a wireless Reader in the future. "Wireless is definitely interesting," Haber says. But it would have to be "under the right circumstances."
A lasting trend
Only Amazon knows how soon Kindles will become more widely available or why there's a holdup. There are no apparent shortages in the display technologies that go into e-book readers, says Vinita Jakhanwal, a principal analyst for mobile displays at iSuppli. Her firm projected worldwide display orders for all e-books to reach 225,000 in 2008 and 1.1 million in 2012, up from 150,000 in 2007. And the numbers could go even higher, she says.
Having folks pine for its product isn't the worst plot twist for Amazon. It creates a buzz around Kindle. But Amazon has every incentive to get Kindle into consumers' hands as soon as possible. "It's essentially an ATM machine for them," says Rubin. "You have to pay even to subscribe to blogs on the product."
Blogs that are free on the Net typically cost $1.99 a month on Kindle; magazines, $1.25 to $3.49 a month, and newspapers from $5.99 to $14.99 a month.
Bajarin believes e-book readers have finally turned the page. "They're not going to be barn burners," he says. "But clearly they're going to get many more converts, and this time it's a lasting trend."